Cambodia, of markets and insects
Cambodia: Every year I descend to Phnom Penh in Cambodia to build houses for the less fortunate villagers out in the wilds, usually that is about 3-4 hours out from the city. Please check out the charity we go to every year to help; http://www.tabithasingapore.com.
Because of these amazing experiences and trips there I truly have fallen in love with Cambodia, the extremely sad history, the incredibly proud people, the beautiful countryside, and of course the incredible variety of food.
You know me – I cannot keep away from the local food, the markets, the street vendors. So here are some of the experiences I have had along the way. Cambodia, of markets and insects – a wee walk through some of my experiences.
Jimminy Crickets – yes indeed folks, this is yours truly munching on bugs in the markets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The English would normally retort “I say that just isn’t cricket” – Er yes the hell it is mate! “Give a little whistle, phew phew, give a little whistle…”
To some market food now and first out of the blocks for you is a beauty. A beef curry noodle soup. Actually, it turns into more of a noodle dish with deep dark meaty beefy gravy. This thing is just awesome, believe me. A picture paints a thousand words, for sure, but seriously a picture cannot show the taste and smell of this dish.
This is traditionally a breakfast dish for those in the markets to build up energy and strength to work the stalls all day long. Mary and I went back once to our favourite market stall at about 11 a.m. on one trip and that hawker was closing big time – get there early folks. Luckily at 11 am, the only dish they had left to serve was this, something so wonderful in my Cambodia, of markets and insects.
Oh yeah baby this is the good stuff. Breakfast of Kings. Well, the breakfast of those working in the markets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Known as Kuy Theaw – very similar to Singaporean Beef Kway Teow perhaps?
Known locally as Kuy Theaw. Seriously just look at it. How good does that look? Easy to find too as this is a very popular one with locals – just go to the markets and find the food courts surrounding them. We went by the Mekong River, near the main food/wet market on a recommendation, truly going for Cambodia, of markets and insects.
Here is a food court called 126, on a corner right opposite the market. You therefore have the wonderful experience of watching Cambodians about their daily business, buying, selling, eating, and laughing. As a foodie and people watcher, it really does not get much better than this. All for the princely sum of 2 bucks!! You just have to try this! Get to 126.
The boys are hard at work over a couple of gas burners making my delicious noodle soup. Come here at 1130 and all this is gone as the market is then in full swing. A quick hose down, pack the chairs and roll the shutters and you would not know they had even been there.
The next experience amazed me as well. Driving back one day from the house building, our driver starts pointing out of the window across the road. A point of interest it seemed, but no one could see what he was referring to. Then luckily he spotted the same point of interest on our side of the road and stopped. At first, we got bombarded by ladies selling green mango with chill/salt dip (which is also just mind-blowing good snack food).
And then there she was – this lady below. And what the f*ck is that on the plate she’s carrying? Yes, it’s cooked tortoises with their eggs. Did you hear me? Yes, cooked tortoises with their eggs. Looks amazing and bloody weird all at the same time. This really is Cambodia, of markets and insects, perhaps even a little on steroids.
I would not exactly say it looks edible, or tasty, but certainly it looks very interesting. Did I try some? Did I hell? My mate Brownie in the UK would never forgive me, as he is a tortoise breeder.
Now you have to say you don’t see this every day. I’ll have two of them please love them, they look delicious. One is for me and one is my my girlfriend, Michelle (get it…???)
I suppose you would have to slow-cook it. Get it? Tortoise = slow, and slow cook? OK, I give up! As you walk the markets you do indeed see just the strangest things, well This is Cambodia, of markets and insects- I mean check out below in the market. Is this a pet shop or is this actually a market stall?
A menagerie of animals and reptiles – so starter, mains, and dessert is all here it seems. Just hope I don’t get invited for dinner. Er I’ll have some salad, one tortoise, the large black and white snake, and some of that white stuff, please.
So now let me give you some of the memories of Cambodia, of markets and insects – pictorially.
For a start, go with a friend. Get a tuk-tuk – you can rent these by the day for a fixed price, or by journey. Find a nice chatty guy with good English and hey presto. The absolute MUST of a way to travel around the city is just get small money denominations.
Sitting eating my breakfast of beef curry noodles one day, again at 126. You look around 126 and you are surrounded by groups of ladies like this. Who are these ladies? Well in about 20 minutes they’ll be sat on their haunches in the market selling their wares. These are the stall owners, the purveyors. Just grabbing some downtime with friends, some energy from the food, and then off they’ll go for the hard slog.
I have been twice to Cambodian cooking classes with this amazing chap called Kung Kea Hun, from Frizz restaurant. Effeminate as could be, so my shirt and watch clearly are befitting.
Kung Kea Hun and yours truly. Great mates. Search for Cambodian Cooking courses Phnom Penh, and you’ll see Frizz Restaurant – that’s the one.
This is a chap who learned to cook at Friends Restaurant, the non-profitable organization created to drag the homeless off the street, and to teach them F&B from waiting, and cooking, to bar staffing. This year through chatting we find out that he has cooked for the King of Cambodia. Funny though was that he had to cook French style as apparently the King is not a great fan of local food – go figure.
Amazing for a guy who was a street orphan. Before the cooking class, he walks you through the market to buy produce for the cooking lesson, so this is ideal to be part of Cambodia, of markets and insects – let me give a few images of those experiences to you now.
In the background is my mate Dougy laughing at something or other and his good lady wife Annie and my Mary. Mind you what are the girls doing with that cucumber? We’re all being shown around by our host chef and mentor, Kung Kea Hun, in the red and black. Look at those colours of the veg, gorgeous.
Cooking in Cambodia – ok ok yes a little hygiene does disappear. We’re high up on a roof terrace overlooking the city, with a couple of beers on the go, cooking amazing food with amazing friends – it clearly does not get much better.
Here comes on recipe from our mentor/trainer/chef today. This is called Kari Krahorm Saich Moan, or simply a pretty basic red curry.
For the Curry paste;
- 4 finely chopped kaffir lime leaves;
- 1/4 kaffir lime zest;
- 1″ peeled and chopped fresh turmeric;
- 1″ peeled and chopped galangal;
- 3 teaspoons of shrimp paste;
- 3 finely chopped shallots;
- 3 finely chopped garlic cloves;
- 2 tablespoons of crushed salted peanuts;
- 2 stalks of thinly sliced lemon grass – make sure you peel a few layers away first as they will be tough and woody; and
- 4 finely chopped chili padi.
Get out your pestle and mortar, as you are going to need it right now (or cheat with a blender). First crush the lemon grass, add lime zest, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallot, shrimp paste, and chili, and bash that until it is a smooth smooth paste. Takes a while believe me, as Mary will also testify to.
Main dish – serves about 4;
- Of course, you’ll need the curry paste above;
- 4 dried chilis seeded and chopped;
- 2.5 cups coconut milk;
- 500g chicken cut into small pieces;
- 2 cups of chicken stock;
- 1.5 tablespoons of palm sugar (or brown sugar – but palm is best);
- 4 tablespoons of fish sauce;
- A cup of long beans cut into 1″ long pieces; and
- 1-2 star anise.
In a pan bring the coconut milk to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and when it goes a little thicker add in the curry paste and fry until fragrant. Add the star anise, chopped chilis and fish sauce and mix well. Add the chicken and stir to make sure all get nicely coated in the sauce. Add the beans, sugar, and stock and again continue to stir. Lower the heat and allow to simmer until the beans and chicken are cooked. That should be about 10 minutes or so, not too long.
Simply serve with some steamed white rice. I guarantee you will not eat this once and once only. This is a go-back for more meal. Simply gorgeous! It’s all in the paste!!!
Back to more adventures of Cambodia, of markets and insects. What half of the stuff is I just could not tell you. But the smells are wonderful, there is such a variety of colours and textures. It’s just all so beautiful to see – and if you acted like a tourist and just went to the tourist spots you’d miss it all.
“Are you looking at me? Are you looking at me?” You do see some pretty freaky things here in the market. But hey we don’t complain when tucking in to a pork sausage, now I wonder what might go in them?
Looks like a scene from a horror movie. I don’t remember my local butcher looking like this. Mind you she seems very happy, business must be booming because all she’s got left are these rough-looking bits. Bits that I probably just ate in my beef noodle curry
The lovely ladies now hard at work will sit and interact and smile. I encourage you to do the same, they work so so hard for very little income – come on make them smile it may just make their day…
Beautiful fresh veggies brought in from all over the surrounding countryside every morning. Beautiful displays. Some of which you can really have no guess as to what the fruit or the veg is.
Eggs anyone? Holy cow she’s got a few. Imagine the amount of chickens she must have. All different colours and sizes, really quite strange and very different from the supermarket.
Kermit and family on a day out? Whoopsy did they turn the wrong corner? Yep, it’s frog leg time folks. Let me just get the lady to take the skin off them all for you. Give me 5 minutes.
Dried whole skate next, baby ones, but still it’s one of those “you don’t see that everyday” moments.
Get your skates on. Well, maybe not these ones as they sit drying in the sun, and to be honest they are flipping whiffy. To each their own.
Sorry, but I am not eating anything that has been in someone else’s mouth – and that includes these walloping great big tongues.
I watched this lady for ages. She was using hand scales, weighing out slices of fish fillet that she has literally just butchered there and then in front of you. Cat Fish mainly but also Tiger Fish. Big teeth and stripes, wonder why they call them Tiger fish. The Mekong has some interesting dwellers.
Yours truly playing with her fish, and about to get a shock when one of them started flapping about. And there was me thinking these weren’t fresh. Holy crap I nearly touched cloth.
Walking past these trays of fish you get quite a surprise when they start to move. I think they’re a little like cat-fish that can breath out of water too for a while. Up you come to ask for one and Whallop she whacks them on the head with a big stick, weighs them on the scales, guts, and fillets them there and then whilst still sitting on her haunches.
Amazing lady! Oh yeah and a couple of random chickens that have clearly had a bad day.
Look at these crabs. Well, we are surrounded by mangroves and the Mekong River, so I suppose it’s not surprising that you get these crabs, almost like mini stone crabs. Beautiful colours.
Seriously stunning-looking crabs all trussed up on the stall. They do indeed look like little mud or mangrove crabs. Wonder what they taste like?
My turn to shop now, it’s beef jerky time. One for Ollie and I. This though you need to cook not just eat raw. Again some steamed or even better fried rice with this would be awesome. This has simply been rubbed in some spices and salt and dried in the fierce sun of Cambodia.
Looks like the South African beef jerky, Bintang, and actually tastes not too dissimilar. Bloody nice. Dried in the sun, simple spices, with salty overtones. Beer food in the making.
Now to another dish from one of our cooking courses -banana flower sausages. This is quite simple and so tasty. Really like this one. Banana flower sausages.
Frying away until the banana flower crisps and browns. That also shows that the meat inside is also cooked.
You will need for the sausages;
- 1 banana flower (or Chinese cabbage – something like that);
- 2 tablespoons of coriander;
- 200g of chicken breast chopped to a fine mince (or cheat and get chicken mince – plus I think pork mince would be great for this); and
- 1 chili finely chopped.
- A tablespoon or so of soy sauce;
- A tablespoon or two of banana vinegar (or white wine vinegar); and
- 1 chopped chili padi.
Take a pan and add about 2 inches of vegetable oil for shallow frying. Fry the young banana leaves or cabbage leaves until softened. Take out and drain on some kitchen towel.
Mix the chicken, coriander, and chili in a bowl and then place at one end of the leaf. Roll over, then fold in the sides and continue to roll to form a sausage and hold together with a cocktail stick. Once done back to the oil for about 5-10 minutes of frying. A quick drain on some kitchen towel and serve with the dipping sauce. Ta-Dah. Damn easy right!!!!
More Cambodia, of markets and insects. Off to the Central Market now and I walked past a lady, did a double take, and “HOLD ON A MINUTE….” What is that? One of those pet shop/restaurant moments. Let’s get a little closer will that help to see better?
A cup of crickets please, and one for yourself sweetheart. Man oh man, bag em up baby.
So here you have crickets, cockroaches, frog legs, and tarantulas if I remember rightly. But I also ate grubs, and water-boatmen. Some are better than others to be honest. But you need to not eat with your eyes folks.
Oooooh which leg to eat first, I just don’t know. The body was mushy inside, but the legs were nice and crispy. All in all I was surprised with this – actually quite tasty, needs a beer though.
And in she goes. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Nice.
Clearly, I am a leg man. We must get some of these for Christmas dinner so the whole family can have a leg for once ha ha. Bring on the tarantulas.
Next time we get a spider, or cockroach in the condo, I may just get a fry-up going on. No more Baygon for me. Hey Mary look, no need to go shopping there’s dinner running up the wall. You certainly have the ability to test yourself when doing Cambodia, of markets and insects.
And now to recipe number three from our Cambodian trips. Amok – the banana cup.
Here is my finished good from the day’s cooking in Cambodia some years ago. I think it looks stellar and boy did it taste delicious – and that comes from a non-fishy boy don’t forget.
This is my version when at home in my own kitchen. It was just as good in flavour, truly, but the bloody thing did not set as well as in Cambodia. Can I blame that on humidity or perhaps a dodgy egg?
I remember all this being very much more detailed and hard on the day (perhaps it was the beers I had consumed). Here is the recipe from the booklet we received as part of our training package. Also, it must be stated that I think it is all up to you, Add more of this, less of that and you have created your own style/version of this delicious dish. This is exactly how it happened in our cooking class with 12 or so different variations of flavour.
Amok is a Cambodian curry that is steamed instead of boiled and is therefore solid, but still very very moist. There are traditionally two types of Amok, one cooked with fish and steamed in banana leaf cups, simply known as Amok.
The other is made from snails steamed in their shells, this is known as Amok Chouk. We were making the former this time. Some chefs add crushed peanuts to the fish mixture, although it is said that more traditional chefs state that is a breach of the original recipe.
Cut a circle from the banana leaf using a saucepan lid (25cm diameter), then very lightly waft it over a gas flame. It basically releases the oils, issuing a beautiful smell. You then fold over to create a corner and hold in place with a cocktail stick – repeat this 4 times for the 4 corners of the cup. You are finished now with this part! Although you do need to repeat that four times.
The curry paste;
- 5 dried chilis, soak, drain, and chop finely;
- 3 garlic cloves;
- 2″ of galangal cut into small pieces;
- 1 lemongrass stalk thinly sliced;
- The zest of 1/4 kaffir lime;
- 1 teaspoon of salt;
- 1 tablespoon of cane sugar; and
- 1/2 shallot finely sliced and diced.
As you’ll see from what we did with the pestle and mortar you have to pound and pound this mixture to get to the fine paste, and believe me our Chef made us get to a super fine paste! But equally, you could grab a food processor and add all Kroeung ingredients and blitz – done! Set aside.
Amok – the additions;
- 3 tablespoons of fish sauce;
- 2 tablespoons of kaffir lime leaves;
- 3 chili padi;
- 500g firm white fish (snapper would be good);
- 3/4 cup coconut cream;
- 2 cups coconut milk; and
- 1 egg beaten.
Slice the fish finely and set aside, slice the kaffir lime leaves and chilis thinly into toothpicks.
Stir the Kroeung into 1 cup of coconut milk until it dissolves, add the egg, fish sauce, and sliced fish. Add the remaining coconut milk and mix well. Literally, then pour the mixture into the 4 banana cups you have made and place into a steamer for 15-20 minutes until set. Turn upside down on a plate and slide the banana cups off.
Then garnish with a little blob of coconut cream, some of the sliced chili and kaffir lime leaf. And that as they say is it! Looks damn good, tastes incredible.
One final funny Cambodia, of markets and insects story. The market we visit and where we eat next too is 100% food. It’s all that is on sale. Or so I thought, until one year, when walking past dried fish, eggs, meat, and bubbling cauldrons of very interesting concoctions I spied this.
When someone said OK we’re a food market, but you can sell cups and jugs, I think she misunderstood. Take one bra, add a tablespoon of fish sauce and soy sauce… Maybe we could use these as the cups for the Kroeung?
To close here is a quote from the Lonely Planet tour guide for Cambodia, which really sums this beautiful country up for me in one simple paragraph; “The years of fear and loathing are over. Right now, Cambodia is just about as hot as it gets on the Global travel map.
Peace has come to this beautiful yet blighted land after three decades of war, and the Cambodian people are embracing the world. Tourism is taking off, but a journey to this little kingdom is still one of Asia’s genuine adventures. Finally, there are the people.
Cambodians have weathered years of bloodshed (nearly 2 million died under Pol Pot), poverty (minimum wage of about 1.5 USD a day, GDP per person per annum of 820 USD compared to circa 50,000 USD in Singapore), and political instability. Somehow they have come through the experience with their smiles ever present; no visitor can leave Cambodia without a huge amount of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this beautiful beautiful land.”
Locals in Cambodia consume a broad array of bizarre animals and insects. Some of them are even found in the wild. These are some of them:
1. Fried tarantula is a popular food in Cambodia and can be purchased at many of the country’s markets and stands that are located along the roadsides.
2. Crickets, which are little, brown insects that, after being fried in oil, are eaten as a snack because of their crunchiness.
3. Frogs, which are a common ingredient in many Cambodian recipes and may be prepared by boiling, frying, or grilling before being served with sauces or as a soup.
4. Water snakes are often prepared as a soup and served with a dip made of white pepper. This delicacy is much sought after.
5. Silk worms, which are little, dark worms that are cooked in water and then served with a choice of either salt or chile on the side.
6. Scorpions are a popular food in Cambodia. They may be boiled or fried, and either way, they are offered as a crunchy snack.
7. Sea snails are a well-liked snack food and may be prepared by boiling them and then serving them with a dipping sauce.
8. Fish bladders are a delicacy that are often prepared by boiling them and eating them with a dipping sauce after serving them in a soup.
9. Marine cucumbers are prepared as a soup by boiling these slimy sea critters and serving them to guests.
10. Bats that have been deep fried and are served with a spicy dipping sauce are a popular dish in Cambodia.